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BOB MOON: Ask ‘where does food come from?’ and you’ll likely hear, ‘the grocery store.’ For most of us, an arms-length relationship with the production and preparation of food is simply a fact of modern life. But a pair of organic farmers in Eastern Washington are working to change that. Five times a year, they invite chefs and culinary students to spend a week living what they call “farm to table.” Reporter Elizabeth Wynne Johnson went for a taste.
ELIZABETH WYNNE JOHNSON: Sunup to sundown, life at Quillisascut Farm near Colville, Washington is all about food. People come from across the country to spend a week doing double-duty as both cooks and farmhands.
Call it Organic Farming 101.
RICK MISTERLY: We think it’s more than just a trend. Organics has been around for like 30 years but just in the last maybe five or 10 years it’s really become mainstream.
Rick and Lora Lee Misterly created the program in 2002. As owners of an organic goat farm, Rick says they were constantly getting questions from restaurant clients.
That inspired the couple to create a hands-on laboratory for teaching food professionals how to work organic options into their menus. In many cases, businesses pay for their employees to attend.
MISTERLY: Organics is coming and people are demanding that type of thing and they think it’s good for their people to know something about that.
Tuition is about $700 per person, which covers room and board plus all instruction. Profits are slim, but the Misterlys say their main goal is to change the relationship between man and feast, one chef at a time.
Today is meat day. A dozen students gather in the sunny farm kitchen. Rick enters carrying one half of a freshly butchered lamb. He places it before chef-instructor Kären Jurgensen.
MISTERLY: Even some of the professionals that have been in the industry for a while, this is the first time they’ve ever broken down a whole animal and so it’s a good experience for them.
KÄREN JURGENSEN: So first off, this is the kidney and you’ll see that it’s surrounded by fat . . .
Seattle-based culinary student Leigh Fulwood looks on, her eyes growing wide. She grew up on an Angus farm. But she never saw this.
LEIGH FULWOOD: Our food is really anonymous. It’s so easy to waste it. It’s so easy to take it for granted, and the way food is produced and consumed in this country is simply not going to get us there over the long term.
Today not a single scrap will go to waste. By nightfall, the students will have cooked up roasts, racks, sausage and paté. The bones boiled into a rich stock.
Now all that’s left is to set the table for dinner.
The Misterlys don’t expect to breed changes in the culinary industry overnight, but they do see evidence of a shift. Attendance at their program has doubled every year and recently included two people from the nationwide food distributor, Food Services of America.
I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson for Marketplace.